During these final, mean-spirited months of 2016, the news frothing with nationalism and narrowing minds, translation has felt redemptive. It has felt like necessary work to lead the Poetry Translation Centre workshops each week; to collaborate with a diverse, shifting group of people who care about cultural dialogue and precise words. I have learnt so much about different poetries – from the three types of ambiguity in Chinese lyrics to the intricate rhyming forms of Swahili – as well as different cultures – of Iran’s Polish Chairs and Cuba’s guapetones. Most of the poems we translated are now up on the new-look PTC site with my translation notes, so I encourage you to sample Oscar Cruz, Iraj Ziayi, Amjad Nasser and Syed Shah Saud (Abdilatif Abdalla and Yu YouYou to follow shortly). If you’d like to join us next year, the next season is ready for booking – a season pass is £35 and might make a good new year’s resolution. Also, why not check out Modern Poetry in Translation’s advent calendar – I was pleased to see one of my translations was day one, and it’s a nice way to sample some amazing world poets and feel merry at the same time.
And on Friday, translation took me to Helsinki for their first Somali Week, to read with my friend Caasha Lul Mohamud Yusuf. I am very pleased to announce I am working on some new translations of her work for her first full collection, The Sea Migrations, to be published by Bloodaxe in November next year. Because these fierce, passionate poems by a Muslim, immigrant, female writer are precisely what everyone needs to read right now, and because those labels scarcely matter when you hear her perform and the whole crowd starts chanting along to Dookh – she is just one of our most vital poets in the UK.
I am lucky to be involved in the project and was lucky, too, to accompany her on a 24-hour trip to Helsinki.
When we arrived everything seemed vast and grey and cold, only the lights of pizza places or Subways flashing past (‘Same same, innit?’ Caasha declared gleefully), as we were rushed to our packed event. But there were lots of friendly and familiar Somali faces there, and afterwards we were treated to a much needed kebab. Then the next day I took advantage of the hotel’s sauna and huge breakfast buffet of boiled eggs, berries, pickled fish and rye bread, before venturing out in the brisk, bright morning for an explore. I saw the harbour with its Christmas market full of reindeer skins and lingon berries, and the little statues of tortoises and bears everywhere. I tried the salted licorice (it tasted of ammonia) and glugged back a quick Glögi. I stumbled on the famous boy’s choir rehearsing their carol concert in the Cathedral and stocked up at the Moomin shop with presents for Cate before our flight home. All very fleeting, but I’m definitely in the festive mood now. 2016 may have been depressing, but the world is still huge and various and beautiful, and you’d have to be dead inside not to enjoy Christmas when your child is three years old and the donkey in the nativity.